12 quintessential date-night restaurants in San Francisco

Waterbar in the Embarcadero has the best seats for watching boats float under the Bay Bridge, making it one of the most sought-after proposal spots in San Francisco.
Sweeping Bay Bridge views from Waterbar in San Francisco

With its stunning bridges and green escapes, San Francisco is a romance magnet—which means its restaurants are poised for unforgettable dates. An old-school steakhouse with rolling carts and extra-large martinis wows couples celebrating just about anything. A seafood icon is a proposal favorite for sweeping Bay Bridge views. And a laidback Nepalese place makes an ideal first date spot thanks to colorful cocktails and a moody blue dining room.

This guide pairs San Francisco restaurants with romantic occasions from first dates all the way to milestone anniversaries. These are San Francisco’s 12 best date-night restaurants. 

For a first date

Cultivar (The Marina)

Cultivar’s unassuming modern facade doesn’t exactly scream romance. But in-the-know locals head to the Californian spot for a table on the back patio—a surprisingly lush and private escape. Here, the oversized fireplace is the low-key star, creating a charming mood to go with Cultivar’s small-batch wines and seasonal dishes. Standouts include lobster mac and cheese, mushroom risotto, and decadent cheese and charcuterie boards made for sharing.

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Dancing Yak (Mission)

Wooden blue chairs and yellow velvet seats in the dining room at Dancing Yak in San Francisco
Yellow velvet chairs and a blue dining room fuel the moody first-date vibes at Dancing Yak. | Credit: Dancing Yak

For a first date that’s off the beaten track, head to Dancing Yak, a restaurant inspired by the mountains of Nepal. Get comfortable in the yellow velvet chairs and sip on colorful cocktails like the bourbon-forward Don’t Talk Yak or the mezcal-fueled Spicy Yeti while snacking on juicy momos (dumplings) in spicy tomato sauce. You can graduate to curries and biryanis if things are going exceptionally well.

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For a second date

L’Ardoise (Duboce Triangle)

This neighborhood gem is the quintessential French bistro. “L’Ardoise” means “chalkboard,” evoking scribbled menus in Parisian restaurants. The petite dining room is filled with cozy corners for snuggling, and it’s the rare SF restaurant where you can actually hear your date. But you’ll find yourself leaning in anyway, drawn to steak frites or duck confit in the glow of candlelight. 

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For an anniversary or romantic milestone

Empress by Boon (Chinatown)

Leather, glass, and antique woodwork accents enhance the royal blue interiors at Empress by Boon in San Francisco.
Leather and glass accents give an elegant edge to the dining room at Empress by Boon. | Credit: Jean Bai

With its regal blue interiors, Empress by Boon has the kind of grandeur that’s rare across northern California’s more casual dining scene. The elegant date spot is worthy of extra-special romantic occasions, fueled by a knockout Cantonese tasting menu from award-winning chef Ho Chee Boon, featuring celebration-worthy dishes like crispy pumpkin puff filled with roasted duck and lobster in sweet chile glaze.

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House of Prime Rib (Van Ness)

House of Prime Rib is the king of steakhouses in San Francisco. Whether you’re celebrating one month or 20 years, it’s the spot to shake things up with an extra-large martini. Locals love the luxurious prime-rib dinner as much as the outrageously fun time: Diners get rowdy when the carts roll through the dining room, with chefs spinning salads and slicing cuts to order. Book early to score a coveted red leather booth for an unforgettable night together. 

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For an intimate and cozy night out

Kokkari Estiatorio (Financial District)

Kokkari may be a power-lunch hub by day, but at night, it becomes one of SF’s coziest date spots. The family-run taverna is decked with wooden beams and ceramic accents for days, plus a natural stone hearth that’s responsible for menu highlights like grilled octopus and smoky lamb chops with lemon-oregano vinaigrette. The staff here is all about philoxenia, or the concept of turning a stranger into a friend, making Kokkari equally great for both early-in-the-game dates and special occasions.

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Sushi Hon (The Mission)

Sushi Hon is for couples who worship at the altar of omakase and where you go for an impressive, uncluttered tasting menu. The zuke masunosuke (soy-cured Ora King salmon) might be the best way to a sushi lover’s heart. Add a sleek, charcoal-colored backdrop and lighting that focuses on the fish, and you’ve got the kind of world-class Japanese spot you’ll want to keep coming back to.

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For a group date

Berber (Russian Hill)

Wood-and-straw chairs and light fixtures at Berber in San Francisco
The North African decor at Berber gives it a modern-day Casablanca feel. | Credit: Berber

Smoky cocktails and dimly lit lanterns from North Africa dial up the glamor at this Russian Hill jewel, ideal for partying it up with a few friends. The restaurant and bar are decked with aboriginal Berber artifacts and a century-old Moroccan door—and could be the set for a modern-day Casablanca. Come on the weekend to enjoy an impressive dinner show featuring sultry cabaret aerialists, contortionists, and belly dancers, plus a very shareable Moroccan-spiced feast.

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For an evening of eatertainment

BIX (Financial District)

A trip to BIX shuttles you to a bygone San Francisco era. The city icon was founded in 1988 and owes its popularity to a nightly jazz band performance. Expect impeccable service from bartenders dressed in signature white jackets—but the staff’s buttoned-up outfits don’t mean they’re snooty. Instead, they make diners feel super welcome in a restaurant that owner Doug Biederbeck describes as “a party every night.”

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AsiaSF (SoMa)

For dinner and a show, book this fun and sexy experience. You and your date can throw it back like it’s 1998 with fruity pink cosmos, then devour three courses of Asian fusion dishes from blackened ahi tuna to “Baby Got Back” glazed ribs—all while trans performers work the runway in the center of the dining room. If the date’s still going strong, drop down to the club in the basement for one last drink.  

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For an adventurous and transportive date

The Matterhorn Restaurant and Bakery (Pac Heights)

Who can resist the charms of fondue? Take a ride to the Swiss Alps at the Matterhorn, which is kitted out like a chalet with pine-wood paneling, electric trains, and even a full-on gondola that exclusively seats one lucky couple. The team bakes the sourdough in house and melts the best gruyere, so dunk away and see where the night takes you.

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For a proposal-worthy place

Waterbar (Embarcadero)

Every diner seems to be celebrating something at this splashy, Pat Kuleto-designed place, all nautical dark wood finishes and floor-to-ceiling aquariums. With its flawless seafood menu and prime seats for watching boats float under the Bay Bridge, Waterbar is a sought-after proposal spot. Don’t miss the chandelier with glowing orbs—a subtle nod to the restaurant’s extensive caviar program.

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Tried them all? Check out other options here.

Becky Duffett is a food writer living and eating in San Francisco. Follow her on Instagram at @beckyduffett.

Valerie Demicheva is a Bay Area-based journalist and photographer whose work has appeared on the covers of the San Francisco Chronicle, Women’s Wear Daily, and Silicon Valley Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @vdemicheva.

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